By Gavin Gibbon
Onset of Covid-19 has accelerated move to digital platforms, while Cabinet shake-up should increase speed of decision-making
The UAE Government’s move to put technology at the forefront of the country’s post-Covid-19 recovery plan will provide it with strong foundations for the future, according to experts.
A radical shake-up of Cabinet personnel was made on Monday, which included several government ministries merging. The move will also see the closure of 50 percent of service centres, which will be transformed into digital platforms within two years.
Diane Mullenex, partner, technology at Pinsent Masons Middle East, told Arabian Business: “Whereas real estate and infrastructure was the solution to emerge from the 2008 financial crisis, the economic crisis created by Covid-19 will be overcome by massive investment in the digital economy and its infrastructure.”
The move comes as part of the UAE Government’s ‘Preparations for the Post-Covid-19 Period’, which was discussed remotely at a meeting in May and saw the participation of 100 government officials, international experts and researchers.
Currently the UAE’s digital economy contributes 4.3 percent to the country’s economy, although that is expected to reach $63.8 billion by 2023.
If there are to be any positives from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the adoption of technology, from online shopping to the success of apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, to assist in online learning and the continuation of business activities.
“Specifically, the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated how digital technology can allow businesses to continue trading,” said Mullenex. “Digital marketplaces such as Amazon have allowed retailers to continue selling to their consumers whilst communication platforms have enabled businesses and individuals to stay connected and ensured minimal disruption to work as well as education.”
Gulf economies have come under pressure from the double whammy of lower oil prices and the Covid-19 crisis, driving governments to cut costs as they navigate the fallout.
According to IMD’s World Digital Competitiveness Ranking 2019 report, the UAE is ranked first in the Arab region and 12th globally. In terms of the technology factor the country ranked second; it came ninth in future readiness and 35th in the knowledge factor.
In Abu Dhabi, the government performed more than 1,000 government services via digital platforms and conducted more than eight million completed transactions last year. While the Smart Dubai initiative aims to transform 1,600 smart services into 32 end-to-end individual and business journeys.
Rudolph Lohmeyer, partner, national transformations institute, Kearney Middle East, said: “The digital aspect is crucial. In the new world we are in, what is required is whole-of-society agility at the ‘cellular’ level - spanning and connecting institutions and citizens. Fortunately, a wide range of technology and policy innovations now make rapid progress on this front possible.
“The UAE has made a very strong start here and in the context of Covid-19, now is clearly the time to accelerate those efforts. One can only hope that other countries are watching and learning.”
The new government has a year to achieve its “new priorities” and there’ll be “continuous changes” to improve efficiency and flexibility, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum said in a tweet on Sunday.
The move will see the merger of around 50 percent of federal authorities with other authorities or ministries.
This includes the National Media Council (NMC) merging with the Federal Youth Authority to the Ministry of Culture, to become the Ministry of Culture and Youth.
Majed Al Suwaidi, managing director of Dubai Media City, Dubai Studio City and Dubai Production City, said: “Some of these changes will have a positive impact on the UAE’s media sector, and we look forward to contributing to them as part of our ongoing commitment to support the industry.
“The government's decisions will play an important role in the continued development of Dubai's diverse media landscape. And as we look forward to the post-Covid era, this vision will create a competitive industry that provides opportunities for the next generation of talent.”
It is hoped that, by consolidating federal agencies in this way, the UAE will reduce dilution of effort and maximise its ability to make decisions quickly.
Lohmeyer added: “The UAE is in many ways defined by its strategic culture and focus on the long-term. This year it is preparing a national strategy for the next 50 years. By streamlining the structure of the government and accelerating digital transformation, it is building the institutional agility it will need to continuously adapt to the changes, challenges and – just as important – the opportunities that those decades will present.”
While Samer Hijazi, partner and head of Grant Thornton Abu Dhabi, believed the move could be replicated across the emirate.
He told Arabian Business: “With the Federal Government leading the pack, it will be of no surprise to see similar motions taking place at local governments - a step that will only boost the position of the UAE as the preferred destination in the MENA region for attracting foreign direct investments.”